Kanye West is one of the most critically-acclaimed and best-selling hip-hop artists in history. However, unlike Nas or N.W.A., fans rarely agree on West's best album, with almost all of his works - spanning an array of styles - being a popular choice.
The College Dropout
The first Kanye album set his career in motion and remain's West's best work.
The College Dropout was fully self-produced
The best Kanye West album should be as much of an individual effort as possible, especially given that West's acclaim is perhaps more linked to his production than his rapping. The College Dropout was the only album where West is credited as the sole producer.
Kanye West recorded The College Dropout before his ego took over
Kanye West's personality is arguably more famous than his music and can be a distraction, as many of his songs being overly braggadocios. But in The College Dropout, Kanye showed confidence without his ego developing into a distraction.
The grand, elaborate Late Registration took West's concepts from The College Dropout to a new level, taking influence from a range of genres and deep lyrical themes.
Late Registration took influence from different genres
Rather than making a standard hip-hop album, West worked with producer Jon Brion, who took influence from artists including Portishead, Coldplay, and Fiona Apple. This array of influences elevated the album above West's other works.
The electronic-influenced Graduation, Kanye West's highest-selling album and containing arguably his biggest hit in Stronger, was his most popular work commerically for a reason: it's his best album.
Graduation was Kanye West's biggest commercial hit
Graduation sold more copies than any other Kanye West album and its first single, Stronger, was a top 10 hit across the world. The best album should be the one that appeals to the most people and Graduation was the album that did this.
808s and Heartbreak influenced over a decade worth of music
In the years following 808s and Heartbreak's release, a wave of rappers and R&B artists have come along citing its influence. Few albums in the 21st century have had the influence of 808s and Heartbreak and this makes it West's best work.
Following a great deal of negative publicity after the 2009 VMAs, Kanye West set out to win back approval with his magnum opus, the sprawling My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was Kanye West's most ambitious work
Featuring a huge slate of featured artists, a nine-minute-long track and a variety of styles, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was a concerted effort to create a masterpiece and one where West succeeded.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy completed Kanye's career arc
Much of Kanye West's career has been defined by a complicated relationship with fame. Naturally, then, the album following his lowest point in public opinion, in which he comes to terms with his status as a "douchebag," should be his best album.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye West's most critically-acclaimed work
Critics adored My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which was s voted best album in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll for 2010 and received a perfect 10.0 score from Pitchfork. The almost unprecedented level of acclaim the album achieved from those who rate music for a living proved it is his best work.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy brought out the best in other artists
Rather than being a single artist's work, the modern album is often a greatly collaborative effort. While there could be debate about which album Kanye West was at his best on, no other album showcased what other artists could do as well as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Kanye West's most jarring album for most listeners, both sonically and lyrically, is his best work.
Yeezus challenges the listener
Unlike other albums, which offer listeners something more similar to what they have heard from other artists, Kanye West takes a bold new direction in Yeezus. By offering something new and different, this work is Kanye West's best.
Yeezus was Kanye's boldest career move commercially
For all of his other albums, West likely made an effort to sound accessible in order to make a profit. However, with Yeezus, he opted to forgo making a simple album in order to make something that was less likely to sell copies. Yeezus was therefore the most purely artistic work of Kanye's career.
Kanye took on racial issues with the urgency they deserve
As hip-hop is so strongly tied to race, the album that best encapsulates the realities of racial struggle should be the best. While Kanye West had rapped about race on many other albums, his boldest statements come on Yeezus, on tracks such as "New Slaves," "Black Skinhead" and "Blood on the Leaves."
Kanye West's 2016 Album, the Life of Pablo, underwent frequent changes before, and even after, release. Ultimately, these changes produced the best album West has ever recorded.
The Life of Pablo shows how the album can be a living medium
Kanye West broke new ground by being unafraid to make changes to The Life of Pablo even after its release. This provides a new depth to the work as a living piece of art and in the digital age, it only makes sense that this will one day be accepted as the future of music.
The Life of Pablo includes soul-influenced tracks like Kanye's first two albums, pop tracks like Graduation, creative use of autotune like 808s and Heartbreak, a grand scope like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and challenges the listener like Yeezus, often all in one track.